I keep going back to that final drive, man. Clemson, down two scores, trying frantically to save its perfect season at the hands of one of the single most dominant football programs of any era. Deshaun Watson scrambling and throwing like everything he had already done wasn’t enough to cement himself as a league above almost everyone else on that field; that it wouldn’t mean a damn thing if he walked away without the win. You can decide for yourself if you want to put winning the game over one of the most dominant performances in a bowl game in recent memory, and that includes that pick he got baited into throwing. Dabo looking increasingly at a loss on the sideline; removing his hat, running his hands through his hair, trying to will some sort of comeback out of the chokehold Nick Saban and his team had put the Tigers in. Even as they scored with 12 seconds left on the clock, needing a successful onside kick, a chance to score, and a virtual act of God to score again and steal a win away from a man who’s never lost a national title game, I won’t lie and say I thought it was over. Because I didn’t. It just didn’t feel over.
That’s been a result of this whole season though. If you’re a Nebraska fan, like me, you learned that in week one. But if you were someone else and needed to see it on the national stage, well, you didn’t have to wait that long either. Ole Miss knocked off the Crimson Tide in a wild night game in Tuscaloosa that involved five Alabama turnovers and Chad Kelly heaving passes to no one in particular, and yet having them bounce into the hands of a Rebel receiver in stride off the hands of at least one Alabama defensive back. Michigan was a successful punt away from beating Michigan State and exorcising one of their most frustrating demons from the recent decent into mediocrity, and thus, chaos ensued, and Michigan State somehow won that game. Florida State needed a 56-yard field goal (from one of the nations best and most consistent kickers) to seal a win over lowly Georgia Tech, a feat upon failing would’ve meant overtime at worst…until Tech blocked and returned the field goal more than 70 yards for the game winning score. It made you watch games until the end. If there was even a chance that the losing team could reverse their fortune, you had to watch until the end. It was just the way this season was.
Not even just results on the field, but off of them as well. Illinois fired its head coach a week before the season even started, for God’s sake. Steve Spurrier left midway through the year, surprising the nation by opting to leave in the middle of the work week instead of draw out a victory tour full of pomp and circumstance that many thought he might’ve deserved, although ultimately never wanted. Georgia dropped Mark Richt for, well, for not being Nick Saban. And amidst all of the rumors and sure things that LSU would be cutting the chord on Les Miles, the coach got the better of organization by singing the fight song on national television and being carried off the field. That moment alone was a microcosm of this past season in and of itself. Miles was as finished as Clemson in the title game, and yet he survived, another testament to the notion that you just couldn’t quit on whoever was playing down this year. You owed it to watch them until the very end, because something crazy was likely going to happen.
Even the underdogs refused to stick to the status quo. Texas (yes, the Texas Longhorns were an underdog virtually all of this year, welcome to 2015) topped eventual playoff participant Oklahoma as well as a Baylor team reduced to having to create an offense on the fly due to lack of quarterbacks. The Iowa Hawkeyes did what people repeatedly said they couldn’t and won every single regular season game they had, and nearly broke down the whole damn door to the playoffs, snuffed out by a herculean Michigan State final drive that was, in itself, some of the finest performance art produced in the last century, I’m sure. And just when people finally began to give the Hawkeyes their dues, they failed in spectacular fashion against Stanford and practical superhuman Christian McCaffrey. Even the Tide couldn’t escape the insanity of the season, as I mentioned earlier, falling in what I can’t stress enough was one incredibly weird game. Only Clemson appeared to be unscathed. That is, until the title game. Until Alabama.
Maybe I just didn’t want the season to be over quite yet. Maybe I was just willing a few more minutes of football before the bleakness of the offseason, when thousands will try to fill the empty void of life without college football with other sports, podcasts and recruiting news, or other hobbies and interests. Maybe I wasn’t ready to see people counting down the days until spring games or first games or any other milestone they would. But I like to think that at least part of me watching the waning seconds of that final game was expecting to be dazzled one more time, against all odds. What had already been an insane, wild, and fun season surely had just one more small, “hey, watch this!” moment for us before going away forever. But instead, we had reached our limit, and a season full of “hold on”s and “not so fast”s was brought to a close, leaving us to wait for next year. And now we look toward 2016, which will have to raise the bar in insanity to match what this last year gave us. And yet, despite the odds, you have to believe that it can, simply because the 2015 season gave us reason to believe that things like that are entirely possible.